I am thankful for the opportunity to minister to you over the coming weeks through preaching in chapter 4 of Ephesians. This chapter has influenced my thinking and ministry greatly. The document I wrote, Speaking the Truth in Love, which presents my principles for ministering, is founded on two passages – verses 1-7 and 11-16. It seemed to me a good chapter for us to study together in this stage of the church’s life for it reminds us of how we are to be as a church and a people who have been called into God’s kingdom. Let’s turn to our text, verse 1.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
We are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called. Before we consider the walk, we will take time to consider what that calling is that we have received as Paul has already presented in the first three chapters. We begin by considering first what we have been called out of.
What We Were Called From
A. Our Spiritual State
Chapter 2:1-3 gives a succinct description of our spiritual state separate from our calling.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyï»¿ and the mind…
To review what is said, one, we were dead in our sin-filled condition, verse 1. This is an important concept to understand. Scripture teaches not that we were as if we were dead but that we truly were dead spiritually. What that means is that our souls were in such a state that they were rendered incapable of responding to God, at least in such a way as to have communion with him. Let me read a couple of other passages that speak to this.
Romans 8:5-8: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…6 To set the mind on the flesh is death…7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1 Corinthians 2:14: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Note the common message. However man is described – “in his flesh” or the “natural person” – the dilemma of each human being is that of himself he is incapable of pleasing God or even turning to God to get help. This is manifested in different ways. For myself, who grew up in church and consciously tried to live a good life to please God, my spiritual ineptness was exhibited through my inability “to get” the gospel. I’m sure that if the many sermons I heard were replayed, I could quickly call out each time the gospel was taught. But in my dead spiritual state, I blithely sat in the pews and translated the gospel of grace into a religion of good works. I didn’t get it.
There are others who actually do seem to get it in that they can articulate the gospel of grace. Nevertheless, they reject it. It doesn’t make sense to the way they perceive reality. They may hear the words of the gospel, but they cannot see themselves or the world from such a perspective.
There are others who just are not “into” spiritual things. The way they see it, there are people who are into spirituality and there are those who are not. If we like to do religion, that’s fine; some of their best friends are into religion. But that is not where they are, and so they go on their way. Again, they just don’t get it.
But the consequence of being dead in sin is not restricted to understanding a spiritual concept. It impacts the way we live. As verse two notes: in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
People like to regard themselves as basically good persons (“we all have our faults”) who are indifferent to God (“no offense intended”) or just not as into God as much as some religious people. But the Bible differs. If we are not alive spiritually and walking with God, we are walking with the devil, “the prince of the power of the air.” If we do not have the Holy Spirit working in us, we have the spirit of the devil now at work in us making us sons of disobedience. Scripture is black and white on this issue. It doesn’t recognize the basically good person who is doing his best to get along. Either we are walking with God or we are rebelling against God, following along the course laid out for us by Satan. We are one or the other.
The result of following the course of the devil is that we live according to the flesh, i. e., according to our natural passions, as verse 3 explains: among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyï»¿ and the mind.
B. Our Status with God
So, we were dead in sin, walking along the course of disobedience just as Satan has laid out for us, so that we gave in to whatever our natural passions led us to do. Now, most of mankind is quite happy with that scenario, as were we. Sin did not feel like slavery or death. We felt quite alive in our sin and liked our sense of freedom to do whatever we pleased. But here was the reality, as verse 3 goes on to explain: “and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
And for us who are Gentiles, not belonging to the Jewish race, we had these added troubles noted in 2:12: “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
So let’s get this straight. However we may have felt in our sinful condition – happy or unsettled, we were under the wrath of God. We were under a state of judgment, of condemnation. In other words, Jonathan Edwards understood Scripture right. The sermon credited with starting the Great Awakening in America in the 1700’s – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – was an exposition of a different verse but with the same theme. Let me read one except that gets to the point:
They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18. "He that believeth not is condemned already." So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is, John 8:23. "Ye are from beneath:" And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God's word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.
It is that state that we have been called out of.
What We Have Been Called Into
What is the calling that we have called into? Whereas before we were dead in sin, now God has “made us alive together with Christ—by grace [we] have been saved” (2:5). We are no longer under God’s wrath; we have been reconciled to God, we have been brought near to him by the blood of Christ by which we were redeemed (2:13-14; 1:7). Our trespasses are forgiven (1:7). Far from being objects of wrath, we are now adopted through Jesus Christ (1:5). As 2:19 explains: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,ï»¿ but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” We belong. We belong to God and we belong to his family, his household. We are not alone.
That’s a nice change in status – to move from being the objects of wrath to becoming the very children of our heavenly Father. But not only has our status changed, we ourselves have been changed. We are not just forgiven. Our salvation is not reduced merely to being let into the house. God, through his Spirit, is doing a good work in us.
For one thing, we now “get it.” When we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, we believed in him (1:13). We are now carrying out the good works that actually do please God, good works which God prepared beforehand for us to do once he created us anew in Christ Jesus (2:10). We are now growing in holiness; indeed, together we are growing into “a holy temple in the Lord,” “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:21-22).
The Benefits Now
And this leads us to consider the benefits of membership in God’s household. Perhaps you have obtained membership in some club, only to find the benefits not to match the hype. You feel neglected, and, indeed, don’t see any real difference in being a member or not. What comes with the calling of God?
God’s love for a starter. God is not indifferent to us or, as we sometimes think, a begrudging Savior. (“Yes, he let us in but is not too happy with how we turned out.”) Love has been his attitude toward us. “In love he predestined usï»¿ for adoption through Jesus Christ” (1:4-5). “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (2:4-5). We are his “beloved children” (5:1). We are to love because Christ loved us with a sacrificial love (5:2, 25).
And then there is power. And it is some power. Paul want us to know “the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (1:19-21). I’m not quite sure how to understand everything that is being told here, but I do catch on that the power working me is the same power that worked in Christ when he was raised from the dead, ascended on high, where he now rules over God’s kingdom.
And these benefits come with a guarantee, being sealed with the Holy Spirit himself (1:13). Our membership has no expiration date. We have not joined a club that will go out of business.
And then there is more. Indeed, the benefits are too great and numerous to count. So we are told we have:
1. in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (1:3)
2. In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (1:7)
3. the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (1:18)
4. again, the immeasurable greatness of his power (1:19)
5. the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (2:7)
6. the unsearchable riches of Christ (3:8)
7. the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (3:19)
And I have yet to mention that we now have direct access to God the Father (2:18) and to God the Son (3:11-12).
The Benefits to Come
Oh, and there are the benefits to come. We have an inheritance. As 1:14 notes: “who (the Holy Spirit) is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” There is disagreement by commentators over what the inheritance refers to. The Greek construction allows for it to be understood as we being the inheritance of God (also in 1:12) or, as the ESV has it, the inheritance given to us by God. I follow along the ESV because “inheritance” also appears in 1:18, which, though can be translated either way, makes more sense in the context to apply to our inheritance, and also in 5:5 which all the more clearly speaks of an inheritance for believers to possess. I think Paul is keeping the same sense of the word throughout.
What is the inheritance? It is the future reward of living in Christ’s kingdom when he returns. We possess it now, and even now live in the kingdom; but there is the day to come when “the new Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” the Lord Jesus Christ, and we will be in “the dwelling place of God” (Revelation 21:2-3). There will come a day when our perishable bodies will be transformed into imperishable bodies as we enter into the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:53); there will come a day when we will bear the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Indeed, “the creation waits with eager longing for [this] revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).
This is the worthy calling to which we have been called. We, who were objects of wrath have been redeemed, have been saved; we have been adopted as children of God through Jesus Christ and, as such are being made worthy to walk as true children of God. We have been given riches stored from boundless grace; we have been give love immeasurable and power immeasurable.
Do you think this calling is worthy of committing our lives to, of walking the walk? The Apostle Paul did. He was proud to be a “prisoner of the Lord” for such a calling and he urged, he called upon his brothers and sisters to respond with commitment to this worthy calling. Perhaps Paul sensed that some were growing weary of the walk. Maybe some were starting to backslide. Whatever the case he prays for them.
What does he pray? He prays for them to see what they have. He prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [them] a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (1:17). He prays that “the eyes of [their] hearts” would be enlightened, that they “may know what is the hope to which he has called [them], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (1:18-19). He prays that God will grant them “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:14-19).
These are mighty prayers. They are prayers that what the believers may know intellectually, they would indeed know within their very fibers. They would not merely know about these things; they would know God’s love, know God’s power, know the majestic hope that should spur them on gladly to live in a manner that is worthy of such a calling.
So, what about you? Do you know how worthy is your calling? Have the “eyes of your heart” been enlightened? If you are a believer you have had it happened to a degree. You can remember when your eyes became opened to your sinful condition and the blessing of finding salvation in Jesus Christ. But it is also likely that you have had the same experiences as most of us. Time goes by, the world becomes “too much with us,” and we lose sight of the heavenly city. Enough troubles come upon us so that our hope lies more in having relief now than glory later. Indeed, if enough time goes by and enough troubles weigh upon us, we are even tempted to think our calling is a raw deal. We expected more and got less.
That is when it is time to remember how worthy our calling is, what are the blessings we have. This past Tuesday in our church staff meeting we did just that. We singled out blessings that have meant much to us. One person mentioned the relief from fear and anxiety. Death no longer is the great fear hovering over her. Another mentioned the security of salvation. No longer is he consumed with proving himself worthy to be saved. Someone else brought up the peace of knowing that God is in control. She no longer has to worry about who’s in charge. Another spoke of the blessing of knowing God’s love even in the midst of physical illness. I brought up the blessing of being able to understand the gospel after years of not getting it.
What do you think about? What struck a chord with you when I was rehearsing the blessings of our calling? Something did strike a chord, didn’t it? I hope these blessing did not roll off your heart, so that you were indifferent, or even resentful. I hope that you have not allowed your troubles to veil the eyes of your heart so that you are blind to what you have. Don’t let Satan have that victory. Count your blessings; name them one by one. They have not been removed from you. All that has happened is a veil has covered your eyes, a veil that you can remove. Look at them again with the eyes of your heart that you might be spurred on to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
There are some here who are indifferent to what you have heard. You cannot believe these blessings are true or you don’t care. You are happy with your life now. You reject the thought of being regarded as a sinner and under God’s wrath. But what if the gospel is true? You have the claims of the gospel; you have been told the blessings that could be yours. Is such a calling not worth even the time for serious consideration? Can you not at least take the time to consider what the Bible has to say? Take the time to read a gospel in the New Testament or read the New Testament itself. It is not long. What will you have lost? Consider what you could gain.
There are some here whose hearts are stirred somewhat, but you cannot claim these blessings for yourselves. If your heart is stirred, is that not the Holy Spirit at work in you opening the eyes of your heart? Is it by chance that you are here? Do you sense that you are here for a reason, that the call for others is a call for you? Now that you have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, will you not believe in him who died for you that you might be adopted as a child of God, that you experience redemption by Christ’s blood, experience the forgiveness of your trespasses and receive the riches of God’s grace? He is ready to lavish t blessings of such a worthy calling upon you.
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